Root canal treatment (also called endodontic treatment) is the process where a dentist removes the pulp (the blood and nerve supply) from an infected or dying tooth and replaces it with dental filling material.
The pulp of your tooth can become infected when decay passes right through the hard parts of the tooth into the root canal system in the middle. It can also happen if the tooth is accidentally damaged. When an infection starts it can spread throughout the root canal system, eventually leading to an abscess. If you don't have root canal treatment the infection can spread into the surrounding tissues, causing pain and swelling, and your dentist may have no choice but to extract the tooth. It is always better to avoid an extraction if possible. You won't necessarily feel any pain in the early stages: but just because a tooth isn't hurting yet doesn't necessarily mean that it is healthy. As with many illnesses, there isn't any pain or discomfort until the latter stages of the disease and treatment is often more effective and more likely to succeed if started early.
The aim of root canal treatment is to eradicate the infection in the root canal and save the tooth.
Yes. You will be given a dental anaesthetic before work begins so that you don't feel anything.
Our own clinical audit data (compiled in November 2005) show that 90% of all the teeth we root fill last for more than 6 years. Even if the infection comes back it is often possible for your dentist to repeat the root canal treatment to get rid of the infection again and avoid extracting your tooth.
Please see our price list for reference. The exact price depends on which tooth is to be filled (some teeth have more root canals than others so it takes longer to treat them since each canal has to be done separately).
The only other effective treatment option is for the dentist to extract the tooth (and if the decay and/or infection has spread too far this may be the only option). Antibiotics will NOT by themselves "cure" an endodontic infection. If you had no treatment at all then even if the tooth hasn't yet caused you any pain it will eventually do so. The pain from dental infections can be extremely intense. There can also be unpleasant swelling. Delaying treatment also reduces the prospects of success and it may prove impossible for your dentist to save the tooth at a later stage.
Teeth often last for many more years after a root filling has been placed. Nonetheless, root filled teeth are more brittle and prone to damage than "live" teeth. This often means that it is necessary to place a crown on the tooth after root canal treatment. The crown helps to hold what remains of the tooth together and to protect it. The ongoing health of the tooth will be monitored by your dentist. This involves taking x-rays annually to see whether any infected area on the end of the roots (see diagrams above) has disappeared. If it doesn't disappear, it may be necessary to repeat the procedure. If it does disappear within 4 years, the root canal treatment is considered a complete success and no further x-rays will be necessary (other than for your routine check-ups).